#1 Get Educated The best way to make a decision to make an educated one. If you are just beginning the process of a separation or divorce, you have a lot of questions. While friends and family are certainly helpful during this process, don’t assume that their advice is sound legal advice.
Speak to an experienced attorney. Do your homework. Ask your questions and take notes. You do not have to retain an attorney because you met him or her for an initial consult. You should consider that attorneys’ advice and from a place of knowledge – you will feel more confident in making decisions going forward. #2 Prioritize As a family law attorney, my question to new clients is always, “What is your priority? What is important to you?” I cannot, and do not, assume I know what you are seeking in your separation or divorce or paternity matter. This is soul-searching question that you need to consider before taking any action.
Try an exercise to gain clarity on what you really want. Make a list with three columns and label them “need,” “want” and “let it go” respectively. Then begin listing items below each. Be honest with yourself about what you really need and want. #3 Get Prepared In every legal separation or divorce, financial disclosures are required. Start a file – physical or on your computer – and compile the information you will need. Your file must contain: tax returns for the last 3 years; bank account statements; retirement or 401(k) or pension statements; title to your residence and mortgage loan statements; credit card statements; and any other financial statements that are assets or liabilities. This is a daunting process and most people want to avoid it. It’s a necessary step under California Family Code § 2104. Starting this process early and doing your “homework” will save your time and attorneys’ fees. If you don’t have access, don’t worry - your attorney can get it. #4 Know Your Numbers Pull your credit report. Review it thoroughly to make sure what you listed in your file (#3) matches your credit report. If your file does not match your credit report – there’s a reason: either (1) your spouse did not tell you about some asset or liability that is listed or (2) there’s an error on the credit reporting agency’s behalf. Look into it. If you discover that is an undisclosed asset or liability, contact an attorney immediately. #5 Prepare for Financial Individuality It’s time to open a bank account and credit card in your own name. Before you fund the bank account, talk to an attorney about the Standard Family Law Restraining Orders set forth in California Family Code § 2040 and the Summons Family Law (FL-110). #6 Ask for Help Your friends, family, and co-workers have heard the news. If your first reaction is to be embarrassed or feel uncomfortable – don’t – your situation is quite common and the people around you (at least for the most part) are innately good. They want to help but they don’t know how. Ask too many questions – they could be considered nosey. Ask too little – they could be considered callous. Tell your friends, family, and co-workers what you need and you will be pleasantly surprised at the compassion and grace that others will show you. #7 Don’t Make Too Many Big Changes at Once Often, there are inevitable changes that happen with a divorce or legal separation. For example, you decide to move out of your family home. Or, you begin sharing custody of your children with your soon-to-be-ex spouse. Keep stability where you can. Especially, when children are involved. Stability, at least in the short-term, will balance some of the other changes that are bound to happen.
You need to move? Move within the same neighborhood or county. If you’re not positive you are going to stay long and dream of moving to a different city or state, the solution is to sign a short-term lease until you know what is going to happen with your home, your children, and your finances. Plus, if you have children, it minimizes the issue of children having to changes schools (because of a change in school district) and minimizes drive-time between parents’ homes.
You need to find a job? You’ve been a stay-at-home parent for the last several years, and are seeing the writing the wall that spousal support will only get you so far. Find a job that you have previous experience in or return to school to finish the degree you started. #8 Self Care It is important for you to make yourself a priority. You may be feeling like the “cup is half empty”. The cup is not half empty and it is not half full – the cup if refillable. But, you cannot pour from an empty cup.
Catch up with a close friend, read a good book, get plenty of rest, take a hot bath, develop a new hobby, eat healthy foods, see a counselor, take a walk (or a hike, or a run – any exercise will release endorphins). Do the things that you love and that will nurture you emotionally and physically. #9 Understanding the Legal Options and Hurdles When you married your spouse, you entered into a legal contract. Now you are considering terminating that contract. The fact is that legal separation and divorce are legal proceedings. While it is important to acknowledge and process your emotions, you must remember that this is the legal dividing of your marital assets and liabilities and responsibilities (including your children and pets), governed by state laws. It is imperative you understand and protect your rights. Be aware of the law and know your options and the hurdles you face. #10 Take Action Insanity is defined by doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Don’t do nothing – do something. To start, the divorce process will take at least 6 months from the date the person filing for divorce officially lets his or her spouse or domestic partner know about the divorce. The case can take longer BUT it cannot be faster than the 6 months. This is a mandatory waiting period required by California law.